Research: young barristers are much cleverer than older ones

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New figures give weight to the suspicion that the senior bar is full of not-so-bright slackers from privileged backgrounds


The mediocre academic performance of senior members of the bar starkly contrasts the high academic standards of baby barristers, a Bar Council survey has revealed.

34% of barristers under 30 (and 41% of those who have joined the bar within the last three years) have first class degrees, with a mere 3% having graduated with a 2:2.

But standards of entry to the bar weren’t always so strict. As you can see in the graph below — taken from the Bar Council’s Barristers’ Working Lives Survey — 38% of barristers aged 50-59 have a 2:2, with a mere 10% having attained a first.


Also up is the proportion of young barristers who went to Oxbridge. 45% of new entrants to the bar in the last three years attended Oxford or Cambridge compared to 31% across the remainder of the bar.

The good news for social mobility is that these findings coincide with a rise in state school-educated Oxbridge graduates joining the bar. According to the survey, there are more under 30s from state school/Oxbridge backgrounds (24%) than older age groups (12%). Although no specific figures are given, the survey also notes that “more of the under 30 age group attended state schools and fewer of the 60 plus age group”. Overall, 56% of barristers went to state schools and 44% to private schools — marking the bar out as very different to the rest of UK society, with only 7% of the general population having been privately educated.

The full survey — which was sent to a representative sample of half of the bar and achieved a response rate of 44% — is here.


Annie Onimouse

Nothing to do with the fact that now first class degrees are given out like smarties then? 20 years ago a first meant something – just like an A at A-level.


David Hughes

Since when did having a 1st of having gone to Oxbridge equate to cleverness?



Probably equates more to hard work. Interesting article though.



Annie, they may hand Firsts out in other subjects but there’s so mention on how many Firsts are handed out in Law. The Higher Education Statistics Agency lists only 10% of students studying Law across the UK to gain a First. That wouldn’t be a large number given Law tends to be one of the bigger programs at University


Not Amused

Better (not ‘good) news on the state school front.

Social mobility can only be achieved by using the established system. Oxbridge has the highest quality undergraduate teaching in the country. It also has/chooses to have the highest standards for grades. LSE may have good claim to equal third in humanities and Imperial may even win in science; but those two are exceptions to be commended – they do not somehow disprove or destroy Oxbridge’s position.

Far too much time, effort and energy is wasted denying the position of Oxbridge by individuals with private agendas. Fine, do that down the pub if it makes you feel better – but doing it anywhere where impressionable young people might here you and get confused as to the truth is reprehensible conduct.

The best thing we can do is get more state school kids in to Oxbridge and the other top universities. Anyone who sends a bright state school kid to one of our appalling universities (and we ought to know who those are) should be shot.



At least this article acknowledges the significant proportion of state school pupils who go to Oxbridge and the implications for diversity, a welcome nuance at last.

A much better indicator of diversity than whether someone went to Oxford or Cambridge is what their background is – where they are from and who their parents are, and where they went to school. I realise that takes a bit more research than working out simply whether they got into one of the country’s top universities but as I have said here before a Bristol, Warwick, Sheffield Hallam – wherever – graduate who was educated privately, who has parents who are, for example, doctors or lawyers and, e.g., third-generation university educated, and who is able to get work experience through their family contacts, say, isn’t exactly more diverse than a state school Oxford grad, now are they.



Except the Oxford grad will have just spent three years surrounded by (and learning to be) arseholes.



You seem to have learnt how just fine on your own.



Perhaps the older barristers with first class degrees have made their money and retired already…



We often hear senior barristers say: “I would not get pupillage if I applied today”.

It can be incredibly infuriating having to deal with senior colleagues who are not very bright.

But it is great news for the future. Imagine when this generation of juniors become silks and judges.



What a load of lather over nothing. Everyone knows the Bar is in it’s death gurgles and all the gobby little Tarquins and Jocastas will be back at the BBC ere long.



Perhaps the ones with 1sts go off to be super-duper world savers at the UN or WHO after a couple of years, giving rise to a natural rate of attrition?



I’m a young(ish) barrister. Very privilege and very bright with more money than I know what to do with. Most of the above comments sound like sour grapes. Should’ve tried harder at school guys



Or to use any punctuation…



Although not bright enough to spell ‘privileged’. Too much Champagne at lunch


Paul Summerfield

Having read the report, I cannot see if the degree classification relates to a law degree or another degree. Can somebody help?


The Disgruntled pupil

Many of the older ones are not only not bright, but also enjoy making the lives of pupils intolerable – i.e. having a pop at them to their pupil supervisors without addressing any concerns with the pupil themselves. They often are just aroused by what little power they have as their home lives fall apart.

A disgruntled pupil.



This article is simply silly. There’s been massive grade-inflation in university degrees during the time period considered. It would be amazing if it were NOT the case that the proportion of good grades was higher at the bottom than the top of the profession.


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